Archives For government

The Briefing

How do we find meaning in yet another mass shooting?
Al Mohler asks that question following the tragedy in Las Vegas.
In the face of such overwhelming news, we naturally seek after facts. But the facts of who and what and where and how, still unfolding, point to the even more difficult question — why? We cannot help but ask why because, made in God’s image, we are moral creatures who cannot grasp or understand the world around us without moral categories.

Gov. signs HB40 into law; Baptists deeply disappointed
Gov. Bruce Rauner ended months of speculation last week when he signed legislation allowing state health insurance and Medicaid coverage for abortions. Reaction has been swift and strong.


So. Baptists, others release letter on ‘alt-right’ to Trump
A letter drafted by a group of Southern Baptists and others has called on President Trump to denounce clearly the racism of the “alt-right.” The letter commends the president for signing a joint congressional resolution rejecting white nationalism and supremacy, but it tells him the country “needs your voice and your convictions to defeat racist ideologies and movements in every form that they present themselves.”

Pew surveys governments on religion
More than 40% of the world’s countries have an official or preferred state religion, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center. The most common official state religion is Islam, which is named in the constitutions or basic laws of 27 countries. That’s 63% of the 43 countries that officially designate a religion. Thirteen countries list Christianity as their state religion—nine in Europe, two in the Caribbean, one in Africa, and one Pacific island nation.

Sources: AlbertMohler.com, Springfield State Journal-Register, Baptist Press (2), Christianity Today

Exterior of Modern Church with Large Cross

A bill in the Illinois Senate that would have required pastors to take state-regulated classes in child protection raises important questions: Shouldn’t pastors do all they can to protect children, one colleague asked. Yes, obviously, but at what risk to religious communities’ First Amendment rights?

And, as important is this question: Why aren’t clergy engaging in stronger self-policing using a mechanism most already have in place, the ministerial code of ethics?

Sen. Melinda Bush of Lake County withdrew the bill last week, after objections from pastors on First Amendment grounds: If the state requires pastors to receive certification in this well-intended and altruistic concern, then what’s next? There aren’t many steps from this bill to government licensure of clergy and churches. “Won’t somebody please think of the children!” isn’t a sufficient argument to allow government regulation of pastoral work.

And, there’s a better way.

As a seminary student, I was required to write for myself a ministerial code of ethics. I studied a dozen examples and came up with a list of biblical and ethical ways for dealing with people, issues, and sticky situations.

A year or two later, I was the grader for that class, and I read scores of codes of ethics submitted by students. Most of these aspiring pastors took the assignment seriously, considering how they should handle counseling and confidentiality, reporting of abuse or neglect, the pastor’s relationship to the law and enforcement agencies. Some addressed euthanasia, and a few spoke to sexual identity and relationship issues just entering public discourse at the time.

Some of these students laid a good foundation for engaging and regulating their future work, so when hard questions arose, they already had biblical ways of processing the issues not based on emotion and reaction.

A good ministerial code of ethics guides pastors in their ministry to children and families in jeopardy. It requires that pastors stay up-to-date on the issues and the law. Through such personally adopted codes, pastors police themselves. They may join in voluntary association with other clergy in their enforcement.

Our Baptist polity—respecting the autonomy of the local church—doesn’t allow the denomination to enforce rules on pastors. Neither does the U. S. Constitution. That’s why we must take responsibility to govern ourselves.

For the sake of the children.

– Eric Reed

Multiple pregnancy resource centers are suing Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner over a new law they say prohibits free speech and requires them to voice a message about abortion that is directly contrary to their mission.

On Feb. 9, 18 pregnancy resource centers filed for an injunction to avoid being forced to comply with an amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that was approved by the Illinois General Assembly last year and went into effect January 1. The amendment requires pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians to discuss abortion as a legal treatment option, to talk about its “benefits,” and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers, said Attorney Thomas Olp of the Thomas More Society, one of the legal organizations working with pregnancy care centers to fight enforcement of the new law.

“It’s an interfering by the government with their ability to communicate feely about an important moral issue,” Olp said. The law also constitutes “viewpoint discrimination,” he added, in that it only regulates the speech of people with a particular viewpoint.

Olp said the government has to have a compelling interest in order to enforce such a law, and the view of the Thomas More Society is that it doesn’t, because information about abortion is readily available. Therefore, the government doesn’t have to compel people to talk about it.

Pregnancy resource centers have already felt the effects of the measure, Olp said. “Some of them have decided not to do sonograms because that’s a medical procedure that clearly is covered by the new law.” Hope Life Center in Sterling, one of the centers represented by the Thomas More Society in a separate lawsuit filed Feb. 2, suspended its medical services at the beginning of the year. Debbie Case, the center’s executive director, posted on its website about the change in operations.

“We see any compliance with this law as morally abhorrent and have determined to obey God rather than man,” Case said. “The law is unclear on what the penalties are for non-compliance (and even what constitutes compliance), but it’s reasonable to expect that if a complaint is filed against our organization we will be fined $10,000 per violation and (even more troubling) our medical personnel will be subject to the scrutiny of the state licensing board and may even lose their licenses.”

Last December, several pro-life health care providers won an injunction against enforcement of the law. Olp said they hope for a hearing and decision on the current case within a month; an injunction would stay the law until resolution of the lawsuit, which could take another year or so, he said.

Because the pregnancy centers are not willing to comply with the law, they won’t be able to continue to operate if the lawsuit isn’t resolved in their favor, Olp said. Which is exactly what proponents of the bill want, he added.

“It’s a pro-abortion law that wants to stymie and eliminate pregnancy resources centers’ message to women who are considering abortion.”

There are more than 90 pregnancy resource across Illinois.

Publicly-funded abortions
Lawmakers could vote any time on Illinois House Bill 40, which would allow taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for abortions. If approved, the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), would provide abortions for women covered by Medicaid for any reason at any point in their pregnancy. Current state law only allows Medicaid coverage for “medically necessary” abortions or those in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

Emily Troscinski, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, estimates that if HB 40 is approved, it could increase the number of abortions in Illinois by 12,000 a year.

The bill also makes wider, more sweeping provisions about abortion, including:

  • Removing language from Illinois that states “the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception…and is entitled to the right to life from conception,” and
  • Making the provision that should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade, abortion would still be legal in Illinois.

-Meredith Flynn

The BriefingIllinois House urged to reject taxpayer-funded abortions
SpeakOut Illinois, a coalition of pro-life and pro-family organizations across the state,  urged lawmakers in the Illinois House to reject legislation allowing taxpayer money to be used for abortions. House Bill 4013 lifts the current prohibition on state workers’ health insurance plans from paying for elective abortions, as well as the prohibition on using public money to pay for elective abortions for Medicaid patients. The piece of legislation could be called up for a vote as early as this week.

How many Christians are in the new Congress?
Pew’s Religion & Public Life found that 90.7% of the 115th Congress identify as Christian, a statistic that has changed little in over a half century of keeping record. “The share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, but the U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s,” noted Pew. Of the 91% Christian majority, 31.4% are Catholic, 13.5% are Baptist, 8.5% are Methodist, 6.5% are Anglican or Episcopal, and another 6.5% are Presbyterian.

Multi-faith network rescuing women from Isis
A secret underground network operating in Iraq and Syria has reportedly freed more than 3,000 Yazidi women held captive in sexual slavery by Isis. Kurdish and Christian civilians make up the group, along with other ethnic minorities and families of the victims, NGO Yazda has claimed. Rescues are carried out through word of mouth, driven by Yazidis who have escaped capture or whose loved ones are still being held in Isis territory.

Gay couple to pastor historic DC Baptist church
Calvary Baptist Church, a progressive Baptist landmark in the heart of downtown Washington, has named a gay couple as co-pastors. Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen were presented to the congregation during worship services Jan. 8 and will begin their new jobs on Feb. 26. The 150-year-old church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012.

S. Baptists lead Congressional Prayer Caucus
Rep. Mark Walker, R.-N.C., will be the new House of Representatives co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, it was announced Jan. 9. Sen. James Lankford, R.-Okla., the other co-chairman of the prayer caucus, and former Rep. Randy Forbes, R.-Va., made the announcement. All three are members of Southern Baptist churches.

Sources: Illinois Family Institute, Christian Post, Independent, Religion News Service, Baptist Press

The BriefingTHE BRIEFING | Pope Francis’ historic address to Congress proved troubling in both its lack of clarity on moral issues and in its church-state impropriety, Southern Baptist leaders and pastors said.

Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the invitation by congressional leaders to the head of a religious body to speak to legislators was problematic. Baptists “historically have been very opposed to the United States government recognizing any religion or religious leader in such a way,” Mohler had told BP before the pope’s visit to Washington.

Bart Barber, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Farmersville, Texas, told Baptist Press, “For Congress to treat a church as though it were a state and the head of a church as though he were the head of a state runs contrary to basic First Amendment principles of disestablishment.” Read more from Baptist Press.


Southern Baptist rep. announces bid for House Speaker

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has announced he is running for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. McCarthy and his family are members of Valley Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Bakersfield.  The House Majority Leader announced his bid Monday (Sept. 28) to replace John Boehner (R-OH) who resigned from the position last week.


Sandi Patty announces retirement

Five-time Grammy and 40-time Dove Award winner Sandi Patty announced her retirement Monday (Sept. 28) in New York City. “No matter what you do, there comes a time when you should step away. And mine has finally come,” shared the 59-year-old Patty.

Patty will embark on a yearlong farewell tour in Feb. 2016.


Rainbow Doritos introduced to support LBGT charity

Frito-Lay, the parent company of Doritos, has introduced rainbow-colored chips in support of the LBGT non-profit the It Gets Better Project. But, you won’t be seeing the Cool Ranch flavor chips on store shelves. They are only available through a $10 donation to the charity project.


CCCU accepts resignations of Goshen, EMU

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities Board of Directors announced the resignations of Goshen College in Goshen, Ind., and Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. The two schools sparked dissension — and prompted other schools to withdraw from the council — after expanding their hiring and benefits policies to embrace same-sex marriage.

The board also appointed a task force to review CCCU categories of association to accommodate the changing face of religious liberty.

Sources: Baptist Press, CNN, KevinMcCarthy.House.gov, RNS. U.S. News

Government leaders need support, encouragement, advice and gospel centered truth, says Carrie Campbell (second from right).

Government leaders need support, encouragement,
advice and gospel centered truth,
says Carrie Campbell (second from right).

COMMENTARY | Carrie Campbell

Every year, my family goes to the Springfield City Basketball Tournament to watch our four city high schools duke it out for the top spot. A few weeks ago, we were sitting at the tournament on a Saturday night when I got a text message from my roommate: Bruce Rauner, Illinois’ newly elected governor, was there.

I quickly scanned the crowd looking for men in suits and a cluster of people. After searching for about 10 minutes, my mom spotted him among the crowd looking just like the rest of us, wearing blue jeans. I immediately decided I wanted to meet him. My sisters and a friend of ours from church headed down to where he was sitting near the court. Gov. Rauner was taking photos with a few other people, and when it was our turn, he smiled at us brightly and told us to come in close and put our heads together.

I introduced myself and told him that I was a middle school teacher. He laughed and said, “God bless you.” We went back to our seats, but later that evening, I went back to talk to him and his team a bit more. I told them that I teach at a diverse school, with students from more than 10 countries. I invited him to meet our students, most of whom have probably never met anyone that influential, especially a government official.

As Christians, I think it’s easy to get intimidated or star-struck by people that lead lives that seem more important than ours. Yes, the governor of Illinois does make many important decisions for our state. But he’s also like the rest of us, a human being put on this earth to glorify God. My introduction to Gov. Rauner reminded me that not only is it extremely important that we lift up our government officials in prayer, but also that we build relationships with them when we have the opportunity. They need our support, encouragement, advice, and gospel centered truth just as much as the next person does.

Romans 13:1 calls Christians to action in just this way: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” So I put forth a challenge to you: The next time you come in contact with a government leader, encourage that person with a friendly introduction, handshake, and—as God gives opportunities—with gospel centered truth.

Carrie Campbell is a middle school teacher in Beardstown and a member of Delta Church in Springfield.

By Eric Reed

Editor’s note: Baptist news editors met in coastal Alabama this week. Look for stories in the Illinois Baptist and online over the next few weeks.

Orange Beach, Ala. | It’s a wonder the local paper didn’t call this “The Battle of Mobile Gay.” This is, after all, the place where in 1864 Admiral Farragut famously condemned the torpedoes and ran his ship “full speed ahead” past Confederate forts and mines (called “torpedoes”) tethered in the Bay.

The 2015 version had attorneys dueling on the courthouse steps and clerks inside shuttering the marriage license window because the probate judge refused to accept applications from same-sex couples.

“I’m plumb ashamed of this town,” one applicant said outside the courthouse on Monday when he and his partner were unable to get married. On Thursday, that same man declared, “In Alabama! I never would’ve believed it!” as he waved his new license in the air with one arm and hugged his new spouse with the other.

Between Monday and Thursday, the Battle:

A federal judge in Mobile, Callie Granade (pronounced like the ammunition), had ruled Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional on January 23. Marriage licenses were to be issued starting Monday. But on Sunday night, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court Roy Moore told the state’s probate court judges, who issue marriage licenses here, that the federal ruling did not apply to them.

On Monday, it was reported 60 counties started processing applications from same-sex couples; seven did not, including the state’s second most populous county, Mobile. Probate judge Don Davis ordered the license window, festooned with purple and gold Mardi Gras masks, shuttered. No licenses were issued to any couples, same-sex or otherwise.

By Wednesday, it was reported only 23 counties were issuing same-sex licenses.

Attorneys representing gay couples and Judge Davis went to court.

And Roy Moore went on TV.

The last time Moore opposed a higher court ruling, he was removed from the bench. That was over the monument to the Ten Commandments at the State Supreme Court. This time, Moore went to the court of public opinion.

For many observers, he appeared to win in Alabama, where his stance is based on a state’s right to amend its own constitution as 81% voters did in 2006, limiting marriage to the traditional, biblical definition. But on TV, against CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Moore lost, according to national pundits who gave the win to the news anchor/attorney.

It didn’t matter. Late Thursday, Granade ruled again. Probate courts must issue marriage licenses to all couples, despite the state constitution. And today, Friday, it is reported all counties’ license offices are open for business.

Frankly, in Alabama, many would never have believed it. I wouldn’t, because I grew up here.

As Baptist editors gathered for their annual conclave to hear reports from SBC entity heads and discuss journalism, I was also looking forward to a short visit to my old home. I didn’t expect to see history made.

I learned to report from that federal courthouse where TV reporters waited this week for the rulings, reporting breathlessly at 5, 6, and 10 on the latest developments—or lack of them. I covered the same county governments at the place where a half-dozen gay couples were wed in the hour after the marriage license office reopened. And I thought I understood this coastal town where half the people are Baptist and the other half are Catholic, and their alliance has kept the politics and the morals mostly conservative for 300 years.

Until now.

Leaders of the Baptist state convention in Alabama quickly commented: “The vast and overwhelming majority of Alabama Baptist leaders and other church members continue to affirm the biblical view of marriage and the historic declarations that Alabama Baptists have made concerning the marriage relationship,” executive director Rick Lance said.

But the comment did not appear on local newscasts in Mobile.

I did hear a comment from an SBC leader at this meeting that demands my consideration. Given the rapid liberalization of public opinion on same-sex marriage and other moral issues, is it possible that pastors and leaders of SBC entities will find themselves heading organizations that are more conservative than the people in the pews—especially younger people? (That’s just the opposite of what happened in mainline denominations in the second half of the 20th century, when leaders grew far more liberal than church members.) Our church members will be shifted by the tide of public opinion, he said, if we pastors and teachers don’t provide a firmer biblical foundation.

And the next wave is coming soon. From here, it’s full speed ahead to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a ruling possibly in June is likely to determine the legality of same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Expect Southern Baptists to speak to that, but will anyone listen?

The Baptists came to Alabama this week, but that wasn’t news. The world changed while we were here. That’s the news.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist newspaper and associate executive director for the Church Communications team of the Illinois Baptist State Association.